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Re: Making Perl Monks a better place for newbies (and others)

by ww (Archbishop)
on Mar 18, 2009 at 22:04 UTC ( #751585=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Making Perl Monks a better place for newbies (and others)

Thank you ELISHEVA for putting this together, and ++.

I can't offer any doctrine but I do have some personal views on some of the ideas we're exploring here.

First and foremost, I vehemently disagree with those who feel we should change the "look and feel" of the Monastery, in pursuit of something "flashy" or "modern." "Don't fix what ain't broke" is valid advice to those who concern themselves solely with appearance. Being au courant is perhaps a good thing if one is peddling widgets, but it requires an unnecessary investment for a community dealing in knowledge, like this one. Further, being "up-to-date" (another phrase often used by advocates of a new look) is transitory. Today's up-to-date is tomorrow's passe.

And if "up-to-date" or "modern" means AJAX, Flash, fancy graphics, and so on, using those almost guarantees longer download times; not a major issue for those with reasonably high speed internet access, but a huge stumbling block for users who rely on (bottom-tier) satellite or dialup.

OTOH, I strongly agree that "content is king."

We might make PM's content a bit more regal, if we develop a mechanism for hiding worthless or off-topic commentary on threads of more than some agreed-upon age (30 or 60 days?), so that the reader of any older thread could be confident that what's initially presented is, by consensus of the Saints or some similar group, the gold standard answer(s). It probably wouldn't take a lot more effort to give visitors the per-thread option of also viewing ALL the nodes in the initial thread, but even that would not be trivial. Overall, though, such a mechanism would be complex to develop, even were we to come to a consensus that this is a "good idea" and consensus on who gets to rate something as "gold standard."

Markup? I suspect (but can't prove) that a large proportion of our newest users are more apt to have some passing acquaintance with .html markup than with POD markup.

Lack of markup: I suspect the only reliable way to cure the appearance of hopelessly unformatted nodes is to develop a procedure for distinguishing among code, data, and narrative and to then invoke that procedure at the "preview" stage of node creation. In my (perhaps unworkable) vision, if the procedure finds markup deficiencies, the "create" option would remain blocked and the author would be given a message about the identified deficiencies. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Accessibility for Beginners: As one who came here with no CS background, and little experience with what one might characterize as *nix-ish documentation (which, in my continuing view, is generally highly valuable for readers who already have a broad general grasp of any particular topic and unspeakably obtuse for the newbie), I found much of the standard documentation (perldoc -f ..., perldoc modulename) obtuse in the extreme.
Today, some years later, I do appreciate how important it is for the newbie to learn to read such documentation, but I continue to believe the Perl community (and many others) could do far better than it does producing documentation for the innocent (not, not an "Idiots' Guide" but documentation that by structure and language serves as a foundation for further learning.
Our Tutorials section seems to me to provide a model; perhaps some of us should develop tutorials on topics even more fundamental than appear there now.

Welcoming to newcomers? I'd stand this one on its head. How can we better help newbies to avoid the pitfalls that sometimes win them caustic corrections?

If a neighbor wants to borrow my chainsaw (not allowed, period) or a cup of sugar, I expect that neighbor to make the request in accordance with some cultural norms:

  • Don't ring the bell at 2 a.m.
  • Don't suggest by the manner of the request that I have an obligation to respond affirmatively (and, especially, don't suggest that I should run to the store and buy some sugar so they can "borrow" it).
  • Explain clearly what it is they want to borrow. Asking for a "some sugar" fails my test of adequate definition in the request; asking for a cup of s white granular substance fails as to particularity (and reason).

If my neighbor were a newcomer to earth, and I were exceptionally well-disposed, I might manage a courteous explanation of how one or more of the above falls short of acceptable conduct on my doorstep. Otherwise, I believe that I'd be well justified in asking the would-be borrower to come back after 7 a.m. or with a more comprehensible request. And if said neighbor assumed that I owed him/her a cup of sugar just because that neighbor wanted it, I'd not feel at all badly about suggesting (forcefully) that the neighbor never darken more door again without having learned to distinguish between their wants and my obligations.

Yes, we sometimes are brusque or worse in response to an incoherent question or unreasonable request, but it seems to me that most newbies (well, those who stick around for a bit) tend to take the reasonably courteous correction quite well, and most demonstrate that they actually benefited from the learning experience.

Duty calls. Stay tuned for updates!

Update: Upvotes in this thread will not necessarily reflect agreement with any particular proposal nor endorsement of that proposal's feasibility but rather will be cast for well-reasoned arguments.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re^2: Making Perl Monks a better place for newbies (and others)
by bellaire (Hermit) on Mar 19, 2009 at 00:37 UTC
    Well said, and we are in agreement, for the most part. Except for the appearance issue, on which I'd just like to address three things here.
    1. The desire to improve the site's appearance doesn't arise from a concern solely with appearance. It arises with a concern that appearance should be at least considered, rather than dismissed out of hand because content is more important (which we are in complete agreement on). If changing the appearance were to degrade the quality of content in any way at all, I would be totally against it. But I think it's possible to have both.
    2. You're right, what's current now will be passe in the future. But that's part of the problem: The fact that the site doesn't change is noticed. It makes it look like nobody cares enough, or that the site is not important enough, to warrant having its look-and-feel updated every few years. Also, "if it aint broke" is an irrelevant argument to the newcomers unfamiliar with the community. The site just looks like it's old and nobody cares. That's incorrect of course, but I feel that's the impression that's made.
    3. Making the appearance modern does not require flash, "fancy" images, or AJAX. The default site already loads an image largely for humour value. That same bandwidth could be used for a sprite table, rendered using CSS (just for example). It does involve taking into account best practices on usability that have been developed over the years. If you've read Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think, it should be quite apparent that this site, in fact, requires quite a bit of thought. That might have been the norm in the late nineties, but not anymore. As I said, the actual process of streamlining would take some effort, but I think it's at least worth considering.
    That's my $0.02. When all is said and done, this isn't the most important thing to address out of this thread by far. I think more functional and content-oriented ideas should have more weight, but I wanted to make my position more clear.
Re^2: Making Perl Monks a better place for newbies (and others)
by puudeli (Pilgrim) on Mar 19, 2009 at 05:58 UTC
    First and foremost, I vehemently disagree with those who feel we should change the "look and feel" of the Monastery, in pursuit of something "flashy" or "modern." "Don't fix what ain't broke" is valid advice to those who concern themselves solely with appearance. Being au courant is perhaps a good thing if one is peddling widgets, but it requires an unnecessary investment for a community dealing in knowledge, like this one. Further, being "up-to-date" (another phrase often used by advocates of a new look) is transitory. Today's up-to-date is tomorrow's passe.

    I must say that I disagree. Look and feel has a huge impact on the usability of the site. Also, improving the layout is not fixing. A modern looking site does not have to compromise the content in any way. I have to admit though that the designing of the PM user interface does require vision, skill, time and thought and can not be considered to be a simple task nor for the faint hearted. Making PM a better place is a worthy target and it should be the aim of every monk.

    I also strongly vote for adding more markup and linking information on the node editing page. It's cheap and easy to do ;-)

    --
    seek $her, $from, $everywhere if exists $true{love};

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